Vikings Give New Meaning to Term 'Love Boat'

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2005; 6:33 PM

The Minnesota Vikings have given new meaning to the term "Love Boat" if the allegations of sexual misconduct by a number of players on board two charter vessels last week eventually are proven to be true.

You've seen the initial stories. A group of 17 players accompanied by who knows who boarded the boats and set sail on Lake Minnetonka last Thursday for what sounded like a 90-minute orgy.

There were reports of naked lap dancing, oral sex, excessive drinking and who knows what else in full view of crew members. They were so appalled by the display, the boats quickly returned to their home port, the better for the crews to immediately swab the decks, take cleansing showers and report to the authorities what can only be described as outrageous behavior if the initial reports can be substantiated.

As a long-time observer of America's favorite professional sport, very little about the NFL surprises me any more. I'm only surprised that even more such incidents haven't been reported over the years.

To its credit, the league tries to emphasize to its players that once they sign their first contract, they will be subject to intense scrutiny and never really can escape the harsh glare of the public spotlight. Every spring, every drafted playter is required to attend a rookie seminar, with three days of role-playing included in the program designed to show them how easy it can be to get in trouble. Teams emphasize it as well, bringing in former FBI agents to lecture their players, even hiring player developmental experts to steer the lads toward the straight and narrow.

But how do you tell a 22-year-old kid with a freshly minted bank book with lots of zeroes on his balance that he can lose it all in the allegation of a scorned or battered woman, a night of drunken excess followed by a DWI citation, an arrest for assault and battery in a bar. These kids, and many of these veterans who should know better, often believe they're invincible and maybe even above the law.

Does anyone now wonder why the NFL insisted that ESPN cancel its popular "Playmakers" show after one season a few years ago. Though it provided a fictional account of a pro football team, all those televised tales of players shooting up before games, abusing their wives, drinking to wretched excess and many more transgressions were clearly too much for the NFL to bear, especially if it tarnished the public's view of the league.

And yet, almost every week of every year for as long as I can remember, NFL players invariably have done something dumb, dumber or flat out illegal, with the Vikings one of the leaders in the clubhouse over the last 20 years.

Isn't this the team that once had to fire an assistant coach, Richard Solomon in the mid-90s for sexual harassment, where running back Onterrio Smith was suspended for a full year for admitting to using a so-called Whizzinator to hide his use of illegal substances, where the current head coach, Mike Tice admitted to scalping Super Bowl tickets last year and where that solid citizen, Randy Moss, was allowed to get away with all manner of bad behavior over the years?

Then again, the Vikings are hardly alone. The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s had some star players, including Pro Bowlers Michael Irvin and Nate Newton, that rented a house not far from the practice facility to smoke a little dope, make a little love and get down and dirty on a regular basis.

The reverberations of this latest Vikings caper will be felt for years in the Twin Cities.

It occurred just at the same time lobbyists for the team were actually pressing state legislators to call for a special session to consider providing public funding for a new stadium.

Oh really? How do you spell fat chance, especially in light of the Minnetonka fiasco.

It also occurred at a time when the team, one some experts actually felt had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, was coming off a bye week after a 1-3 start. I'd venture a guess the Vikings won't win three more games this season, what with the distraction of the boat debacle on their collective minds.

Tice, of course, is toast, and that's truly a shame. I've known him since he was a quarterback at the University of Maryland and followed his career as a fine tight end in Seattle to his days as one of the better offensive line coaches in the league.

The Vikings previous owner, Red McCombs, truly embarrassed him by making Tice the lowest paid head coach in the league when Dennis Green left town three years ago. But Tice, to his credit, kept his team competitive despite earning less money than a number of assistant coaches around the league.

Now he's almost certain to be fired, unless, miracle of miracles, he can find a way to turn this disaster into a rallying point for his team. "It can tear a team apart or bring us together," Tice said on Wednesday, "and it's my job to bring the team together."

That will be a Herculean task for what surely is the first lame-duck coach of the 2005 season. But if he can get this team back on track and somehow win the atrociously mediocre NFC Central, new owner Zygi Wilf ought to reward him with a pay raise and a long-term contract. It's the least he could do.

But that's probably not going to happen. This Viking ship is sinking fast, joining those two Love Boats in taking this team down to uncharted depths, even for the NFL.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company